I can’t believe we’ve finally made it. What a long, strange trip it’s been! From the gleaming spires of the Guild to the stinking swamps of the Bayou, we’ve traversed Malifaux from end to end. You might say we’ve… explored everything it has to offer. But not quite.
The game’s eighth and newest faction launched in 2020, the first major expansion of Third Edition. Armed with the latest and greatest technology… and the oldest and deadliest relics… the dilettantes, treasure-seekers and bored rich jerks of the Explorer’s Society have a mandate to fill in the missing spaces on the Malifaux map. Let’s find out more.
The Lore of the Society
Malifaux is a land of unparalleled opportunity, an empty plain waiting to be plundered (as soon as those pesky Neverborn can be dealt with). At least, that’s how the Explorer’s Society sees it. The Arcanists may be terrorists, the Ten Thunders a crime syndicate, the Guild an authoritarian government, and the Resurrectionists mad killers. But the Society are something far more sinister than any of them: rich colonizers.
I guess that’s a little unfair. The Society was founded by Lord Justin Cooper, a jaded noble who had grown bored of Earth’s pesky “morality” and “laws” getting in the way of his excitement. He traveled to Malifaux and spent a not inconsiderable portion of his extremely considerable fortune building and outfitting a vast mansion in the middle of Malifaux’s slums. His wealth– and his obvious commitment to adventure, excitement, and the pursuit of hedonism– attracted followers and hangers-on like flies to honey (or to other fragrant items that tend to attract flies). But the Society didn’t really take its modern form until Cooper’s accident.
Perhaps it was fitting that the great hunter himself would be laid low in a hunt gone wrong, but however befitting the irony, it left the Society adrift without its leader. While he recuperated, Cooper handed over the keys to the society to Gretchen Janus, and that’s where things really started to get weird. Nobody knows quite who Janus is. Is she noble? Royal? Is she, in fact, human? What she is is incredibly smart, insightful, and charismatic, and combined with Cooper’s near-unlimited resources (and her own, quite untraceable, wealth), she was able to bend the Society to her will. No longer was it a loose cadre of thrill-seekers and plunderers; under Janus, the Society has refocused on a mission that actually sort-of resembles real exploration.
From the great manor in the heart of the City, expeditions depart in all directions, each following Janus’s carefully scripted orders. Explore that cave system. Retrieve this stone idol. Map that mountain pass. Many don’t return, but there’s an ever-growing stream of hopeful prospects knocking at the Society’s door. It’s hard to deny that the Society is doing some good now, rolling back the boundaries of ignorance and expanding the reach of science and knowledge. They push on every frontier: geographic, technological, and sometimes moral. Membership still tends towards the rich and, let’s say, morally flexible, but at the very least they seem to have some sense of the greater good.
Of course, what Lady Janus is after, nobody quite knows. Many of her expeditions fail, but there are always more eager explorers to send out, and the ones that return often have gifts for her. What is she doing with all those relics? All those maps? What is she planning, in the depths of the Manor? Where did she come from, so suddenly, so mysteriously, and how did she find Lord Cooper? Good luck answering even one of those questions… and just asking can be dangerous. The Society isn’t as official as the Guild, as large as the Arcanists, or as well-established as the Ten Thunders, but it’s not without tricks of its own, and wealth buys a lot of silence. Sometimes even other people’s. Permanently.
The Society’s open-ended mission and vast resources have attracted all sorts. Some are earnest tinkerers, devoted to the great god Science. Some are creatures from out of Malifaux’s past (or Earth’s) looking to blend in or find the answers to their personal quests. Some are actual, honest to god Explorers who just want to scribble in the blank parts of the map. They use the Society to their own ends, and Janus uses them to hers. The Explorer’s society appears to be one thing, turns out to be another, but has hidden wheels in its depths. Time will tell if all this tinkering with Things Man Was Not Meant to Know will blow up in its members’ faces, but surely that can’t happen again, right?
Why Should I Play Explorer’s Society?
The Society is the game’s newest faction, and so players of long vintage (or those returning after an extended break) might find themselves attracted to its novelty. It was also, not to put too fine a point on it, completely broken until relatively recently. To Wyrd’s credit, that’s not really an issue of intentional power creep; everything they released gets fine-tuned and errata’d over time, and the Society is so recent that until February 2022 it hadn’t been errata’d yet. The newest update dropped in late February and toned down the most egregious outliers, and while time will tell if they’ve struck the right balance, the early signs are encouraging; Cadmus and Umbra, the two more overpowered keywords, both took a swift kick in the shorts that has brought them down to Earth a bit.
Beyond metagame considerations, the Society is the place to go for high-tech hijinks. The Arcanists may be the steampunk tinkerers, but the Society is full of mad scientists and their crazy lightning machines. They’re not all technophiles, and a few of the crews have gribbly monsters to rival the Neverborn, but they’re definitely a techy lot. Gameplay-wise, Society crews tend towards the upper end of the complexity scale; almost all of their masters have extremely complicated interlocking mechanics, and even those at the bottom end of the scale still have some pretty crazy stuff going on. Definitely not a beginner faction.
The symbol of the Explorer’s Society is a pair of guns crossed over a compass, with a torch in the middle. Something to show you where to go, something to light your way there, and something to shoot whoever you find.
Play Explorer’s Society if:
- You really love the way Malifaux’s system can generate extraordinarily complex emergent gameplay. Simple mechanics come together to do pretty crazy things.
- You like painting steel and brass. Lots of cool machines here, and lots of high-tech equipment.
- You always jump to the new hotness. Hey, I get it. Flavors of the month become flavors of the month because they taste good!
There’s one Master not included her– after being fired by the Guild, Lucas McCabe went and joined the Explorers, but he’s already been covered in the Thunders article and won’t be again.
The founder of the Society has come a long way since first stepping through the breach. Lord Justin Cooper was born to unimaginable wealth and privilege, but his father denied him any of the pleasures that money could have brought him– instead, he took his son on a variety of hunts, insisting that only in testing one’s mettle against the savagery of nature could a man truly know himself. Cooper resisted at first, but after being disowned and sent out into the world to prove himself, he grew to love the thrill of the hunt. He tested himself against Earth’s greatest predators and brought them all down. When the Breach opened, he traveled to Malifaux to prove himself against the new world’s terrors. He founded the Explorer’s Society in an attempt to attract like-minded adventurers and sportsmen.
Marcus, the chimeramancer and beastmaster, took a dim view of this indeed. He sabotaged Cooper’s birthday hunt, leading to the noble’s near death at the claws of an enraged Slate Ridge Mauler. It was a long, long road to recuperation, and in that time Cooper handed off the reins of the Society to Gretchen Janus. His body rebuilt by Malifaux’s foremost artificier, Cooper experienced a revelation. Here, for the first time, was the prospect of a truly dangerous hunt against an equally skilled foe. What prey is more deadly than man? Recovered, Cooper leads his Apex hunters against beasts, monsters, and the occasional desperate soul who wagers his life against Cooper’s gun. These Runaways provide the huntsman with truly testing sport, and sometimes they even get away. Rarely, though; Cooper’s bloodhounds Artemis and Ullr are the best trackers this side of the Breach, and the robotic Model 9– made from the spare parts left over after Cooper’s reconstruction was complete– moves with uncanny speed.
Cooper’s crew is built around the man and his gun. His .950 Nitro Express Rifle punches huge holes in things, and despite its slow reload, one shot is usually enough. He relies on his crew to set him up– Ullr protects him from harm, while Artemis locks down targets. Supporting him is a cadre of like-minded hunters, though Cooper has managed to capture a single egg of the ultra-rare Malisaurus Rex and bind the beast to his service. Enemies who can’t hide from the gun and can’t lock Cooper down in melee will find themselves ventilated in short order, but the man’s monomaniacal focus on the hunt means he won’t retreat from combat, even if it means he can’t shoot.
Play Lord Cooper if:
- You believe that the most dangerous game of all… is man. Or gremlin, or winged demon monster lady.
- You like to put the hurt on people from a distance
- You like wagering the outcome of a game on one key flip
The Explorer’s Society is always pushing out on the frontiers, but not all frontiers are found on a map. To be an Explorer is to push boundaries and live on the cutting edge… and in the modern year of 1907, what edge is more cutting than SCIENCE?
Maxine Agassiz, like all good Explorers, is stinking rich through no hard work on her own part (her family owns a copper mine). But unlike the other Explorers, she’s chosen to put her fortune to work for the good of humanity. Maxine is a scientist– an acclaimed polymath, actually, with degrees in chemistry, biology, physics, engineering and mathematics. Alongside her eccentric husband Orville, a man obsessed with human flight, Maxine has plumbed the greatest mysteries on both sides of the breach. She’s traveled the world, assembling a crew of scientists and adventurers aboard the Expedition Vessel Superior. The crew of the EVS come from all over– Harata Ngaatoro from Aotearoa, Kiya Manimi from Abyssinia, Dr. Ogden Beebe from jolly old England. They’re united in their respect for Captain Agassiz and their desire to learn all that man was– and was not– meant to know.
Lately, Maxine has become obsessed with unraveling the mysteries of the Burning Man. Her interest is not just theoretical– if a method could be found for predicting the opening of the portals he leaves in his wake, the devastation they cause could be prevented. Attempting to verify a theory on these portals, Maxine took the Superior out to the middle of nowhere– only to see her theory vindicated when a portal opened beneath them. The Superior was dragged into Malifaux’s oceans and left badly damaged, but the Society rescued Maxine and her crew and sponsored their work. They want to understand the Burning Man as much as anyone… but perhaps they would feel differently if they knew that Maxine was studying the damned tome Contiones de Rege Flammae…
Maxine’s crew centers around her unique Reconfigure mechanic. Each member of the crew Reconfigures on a different suit, and whenever they cheat a matching card from their hand, it will always count as at least a 9. Played right, the EVS crew can get tons of use out of otherwise junk cards. They provide significant buffs to each other, like any good crew, but the key to making EVS work is deploying the right cards at the right time.
Play Maxine Agassiz if:
- Your aesthetic tastes tend more towards sci-fi than classic steampunk– the EVS has the highest high tech in Malifaux
- You like predictability. With a hand with diverse suits, you are guaranteed to have a bunch of nines at the very least.
- You are always willing to tip your fedora to a fine m’lady, and are enlightened by your own intelligence.
The ruins of Old Malifaux are full of the creations of the Tyrant War: silent, looming constructs, mysterious relics, Neverborn treasures. There are things dwelling in there still, ancient things from the time of the sorceror-gods, tools and weapons crafted by one side or the other.
Some of those things are alive.
Nobody knows how Gretchen Janus first made contact with the Cadmus entity. Cadmus was a creation of Titania, meant to be the perfect spymaster. Made up of millions of tiny Cadmus parasites, the entity formed by their gestalt consciousness can see through the eyes and hear through the ears of anyone infected by its brood. Cadmus served for a time as Titania’s intelligence master, but it learned and grew as time went on, and temptation led it to infest several Fae. Learning of this betrayal, Titania sealed it away. Killing Cadmus would be impossible without tracking down each and every mite, but sealed, it slept. Until Titania woke, and Cadmus woke with her. Janus freed it, and now it serves her. “Nexus” is the closest thing Cadmus has to a face, but it is just a host for the entity, not a person in its own right.
Cadmus is curious. The world has changed during its slumber. Humans number in their thousands, crawling over everything, and form the perfect hosts. Many ordinary citizens of Malifaux unknowingly carry Cadmus mites in their blood, and these Eyes and Ears expand Cadmus’s reach across Malifaux. Cadmus fears Titania and what will happen when the Fae Queen finds out that her perfect spy is still active; Janus offers protection for now, and in return Cadmus spies for the Society. It is learning to use its power, too. Its mites can mutate their hosts into horrific Husks, or twist them into specialized Spelleaters. By suborning the renowned epidemiologist Dr. Meredith Stanley, Cadmus has begun to learn more about its own nature… and how it can grow.
Nexus’s central mechanic is Parasite Tokens. An enemy so infected can be treated as a friendly… which means Cadmus can see through its eyes and act through its limbs. Spreading these tokens empowers the Cadmus entity and makes its will ever stronger. It can temporarily overpower its hosts, forcing them to act. Cadmus’s followers form a hivemind, able to share damage and healing between themselves– as long as a network of infected survive, they’re inhumanly resilient. Nexus was famed as a bit of a negative play experience on launch, being about 10% better than almost any other master (English Ivan was really the only one who could compete) but recent nerfs have brought it back down to earth and made it merely “quite good” instead of “broken.”
Play Nexus if:
- You want to play Explorers, but want to summon as well. Cadmus is the best summoner in the faction.
- You like body horror. Cadmus has some pretty horrific models, along with a few subtler ones.
- You get a kick out of controlling your enemy’s dudes and making them fight each other. Stop hitting yourself!
There are only two things we know for sure about English Ivan: He’s not English, and his name’s not Ivan. The dapper man in the bowler hat has had many names and many employers over the years. The Arcanists thought he was one of theirs, for a while. Condor Rails certainly believed they could count on him. And now Gretchen Janus is sure she’s got him wrapped around her finger. Ivan’s “true” loyalties (if he has any) lie with the Department of Ungentlemanly Affairs. The DUA serve at Ivan’s will, gathering intelligence on both sides of the Breach and reporting back to their leader. Master spy that he is, though, Ivan has other tricks.
Gretchen Janus tasked him with the retrieval of a mysterious artifact from deep in the Bayou. The Black Soulstone gave its wielder power over shadows. Ivan tried to make use of this artifact, but too late realized its dangers. It sucked him into a realm of shadow, where he was torn to pieces by its denizens. The DUA managed to retrieve Ivan’s shattered essence and rebind it, but he brought something back with him. Mr. Mordrake, Ivan’s living shadow, serves at his will, but he can sense the creature’s malice towards him and all life. Other shadowy creations, Umbra creatures from that nightmare realm, manifest at Ivan’s command. Harnessing the power of the Soulstone has made Ivan more dangerous than ever, but its power eats away at him, its whispers filling his mind. Who is the man? Who is the shadow? Every time Ivan calls on the power of the Soulstone, he’s a little less sure of the answer to that question…
Ivan is another dual-keyword master. The DUA’s operatives and agents provide dirty tricks and shenanigans, especially with their signature Ungentlemanly Affairs ability that turns negative flips from concealment, friendly fire and the Distracted condition into positives. The Umbra creatures, meanwhile, slink in the shadows, dropping Shadow Markers and concealing everything around them in gloom. Ivan can summon new Umbras by tearing enemies’ shadows away from them; the stronger the foe’s willpower, the stronger the shadow generated. The Shadow Markers his crew drops not only protect them from harm– they can leap from shadow to shadow, appearing where you least expect it.
Play English Ivan if:
- You love to netdeck. Ivan was recently nerfed, but until then was considered one of the most broken masters in the game, and it remains to be seen if the nerf hit hard enough
- You think ahead; Ivan’s shadow marker gameplay promotes careful planning
- You think the Babadook is one thicc bih
Hailing from the Oklahoma Frontier, Cornelius Basse is a lawman’s lawman, straight as an arrow and respected by all. His stoicism and fairness made him plenty of friends and earned him the love of one woman, and though she passed before they could marry, she left him a hot-blooded and fierce daughter, Bernadette. Unfortunately, not everyone shared the Basse duo’s sense of justice, and when Bernadette’s path crossed that of a corrupt judge’s son, she was forced to kill him in self defense. That was the end of Cornelius’s burgeoning career as a sheriff– he fled American “justice” through the Breach and stumbled right into the hands of the Guild.
The Guild knew that they had leverage over Basse. And the Guild always uses its leverage. Malifaux’s frontier is expanding all the time, and the Badlands is a lawless place. Basse was the right man at the right time. Paired with the retired Executioner Jonathan Reichert, Basse pater and fille set out to bring the law with them… but the Explorer’s Society had been watching, and they made contact as well. A lawman roaming in the far Badlands sees a lot, and he’s in a position to do a lot more. For those trying to fill in Malifaux’s map, Basse represents an opportunity. And the man himself? Caught between two masters, he’s just trying to protect his daughter and himself, and maybe bring a little bit of justice to a land that hasn’t seen much of it.
Basse’s Frontier keyword focuses largely on ranged combat, but these rugged survivalists know how to take care of themselves, and the crew has plenty of incidental healing to keep themselves topped off. As master rangers and trackers, they extend your deployment zone with their signature Home on the Range ability, which lets you start the game in a commanding position. Frontier models can also kick up dust clouds to hide themselves and slow enemies down… and enemies stuck in severe terrain may find themselves ambushed from below by a massive, tunneling sandworm.
Play Cornelius Basse if:
- You want to play the only ES master who’s not a scumbag, or at least morally compromised in some way
- You like controlling territory and want to pressure your opponent right from the jump
- You enjoyed Dune in theaters, but you think the 1990 original with Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward was better
Once upon a time, there was a woman who couldn’t die. Jedza was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and what she saw changed her. Mostly, it changed her into an immortal. Since then, she’s wandered Earth’s most remote places– at first out of curiosity and wonder, but eventually in search of something that would break her curse and let her die. On her journeys, she gathered up a motley crew of followers, from the skeletal aurochs Sophie to Mikhail, the sixteenth of that name, whose family pledged their service to the woman who saved them. These Seekers search for lost knowledge and new tales to pass the time. Jedza’s curse doesn’t just keep her alive– it extends around her, animating the fallen as she passes by and even sculpting the land into living beings that follow her out of curiosity.
She wandered through Malifaux during the time of the first Breach, and now she’s back, repaying a favor called in by Gretchen Janus during their time on Earth. Jedza is a lifelong traveler, a wanderer who never sits still; who better to explore the wastes and wild places of Malifaux? Especially since its dangers pose no real threat to her. But she has her own agenda and her own contacts, especially the witch Zoraida, and Jedza remains hopeful that her long quest will someday be at its end.
Her curse of life means that Jedza’s crew is impossibly hard to put down. Many models heal each other, and Jedza can spare her followers from death. Whenever a friendly model heals, it triggers every nearby model’s Chronicle ability, which means her crews tend to bubble up tight. That leaves them vulnerable to aoe attacks or missions that require you to spread out, but Jedza’s bubble is fiendishly difficult to pop, and she can do surprising damage… especially when she causes you to simply age to dust and disappear.
Play Jedza if:
- You love your dear little models and don’t want anything bad to happen to them
- You like overlapping auras. Boy, do you love overlapping auras. You have a tee shirt that says ASK ME ABOUT OVERLAPPING AURAS
- You have longed for Polish representation in your war games. Stanislaw Jaroslcyzwyzck, this one is for you.
Malifaux is big, and mostly empty. Soulstones need to travel from frontier towns back to Malifaux City, and laborers and settlers need to travel the other way. Everything improtant in Malifaux moves by train, which means everyone is dependent– to some degree– on Condor Rails, the biggest monopoly this side of the Breach. Aucaman Lycarayen founded the company before his untimely disappearance, and his daughter Anya leads it now– still in her teens, but possessed of a ruthlessness and business acumen that frightens anyone who deals with her. And while most of her battles are fought in the boardroom, she knows that sometimes to get something done you have to do it yourself.
Anya is wealthy and powerful beyond measure, but that’s not enough. She takes the field alongside hand-picked underlings from her Syndicate, including Winston Finnegan, a dirigible magnate bought out by Condor Rails, and the massive mechanical bird Sovereign. Visitors to Condor Rails’s headquarters think that Sovereign is just a statue, but those who have seen it in action know to fear the massive metal talons and the thunderstorms it brings in its wake. Enemies of Condor Rails tend to disappear, or hastily sign one-sided contracts placing their resources at the company’s disposal. Mile by mile, track by track, Condor’s reach expands. The Guild is wary of the Lycarayen monopoly, but with the Explorer’s Society at her back, Anya is comfortably certain that they can’t stop her. Maybe it’s just the confidence of youth, but she hasn’t been wrong yet.
The Syndicate crew relies on Price of Progress, an ability that lets them spend life to build in suits for triggers. That gives them unmatched flexibility, but requires a steady stream of healing, which many models can provide. Anya and her Surveyors can turn large portions of the board into no-go zones full of hazardous terrain, forcing enemies to take ping damage just to take actions. Her crew is fast and mobile, and excels at both playing the mission and turning on a dime to execute problem enemies– but they’re somewhat fragile, especially if they’re spending lots of health on suits.
Play Anya Lycarayen if:
- You really love triggers and don’t like relying on your deck to provide for you
- You want your master to get in there and carve things up herself
- Your meta is full of high-armor foes you can ping down a point at a time
And… that’s everything! No bonus this time, since ES don’t have any Nightmare crews (aside from McCabe, who we already covered). Still, I’d like to say a few words before closing this article.
Malifaux is a great game, in my opinion the best I’ve ever played, and it’s the best it’s ever been. The community is tight-knit and thriving, and there’s a way for everyone to enjoy the game: Malifaux lends itself just as well to casual, narrative play as it does to competitive tournament play. Part of what makes the game so great is its incredible flavor. There’s no generic soldiers here– every single model is dripping with character, and each of the game’s 54 masters is unique and distinct. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing these articles. Maybe you’ve been on the fence about Malifaux, and the Faction Focuses have tipped you over. Maybe you’re just starting out and they’ve encouraged you to explore. Maybe you’ve been playing for years and I’ve sparked your desire to pick up a new master or a whole new faction.
I encourage you to jump right in if you’re curious. Malifaux has a huge Vassal community, and it’s officially sanctioned by Wyrd. If you’d like to play but don’t have anyone flipping cards near you, check it out here: https://vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:Malifaux.
I’m not done here, not by a long shot. I plan to write an article on Gaining Grounds, the Malifaux equivalent to Warhammer’s Warzones or Warmachine’s Steamroller– the official matched play rules, in other words. After that, I’d like to talk about Malifaux Burns, the first full expansion book of the new edition. I’ll have plenty of event and tournament reports, too. I won’t be publishing every week, but watch this space for more Malifaux goodness.
If you like my work, you should also check out some of the Malifaux podcasts and gaming channels. BadFaux Haku runs a great Youtube channel where you can catch Vassal games, as does the Malifaux World Series. There are tons of great Malifaux podcasts, too… Schemes and Stones, Third Floor Wars (more than just Malifaux), Rage Quit Wire, the Other Coast, and Boring Conversation. Definitely check out Boring Conversation Episode 17, where they spend about 2 minutes just gassing me up. That was fun to listen to in the car.
I’ve also mentioned Danger Planet Games, a hobby channel/podcast that will include Malifaux content– we’re targeting a launch for Adepticon, so watch for that!
That wraps up our Faction Focus series but that’s not the end of what we can say about Malifaux. Next week we’ll launch a page that will make all of these easier to find, and then check back the week after and every other Tuesday for more articles on hobby, tactics, and new developments. So until next time… watch your back and keep your soulstones handy, and for god’s sake try to avoid flipping black jokers!
Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.